Sunday, January 8, 2017

Storystorm Day #8: Rabbit Song

At the prompting of Tara Lazar and Deb Lund (“Sing Along to the Classics”) I reread The Tale of Peter Rabbit to see what could be learned, and here's what I found:

  1. Potter includes a pretty horrific background detail -- the past killing and baking into a pie of Peter's father -- without apparently horrifying her young reader. How did she manage it? I think partly by having the characters be rabbits, but mostly by a kind of steadiness of tone. (Okay, and also because of the decade she lived in. It would simply be much harder to pull off today.) She establishes a voice that combines both authority and charm, both humor and restraint, that carries the reader through all. 
  2. I was surprised by how much action -- chases and thrilling escapes -- the story contained, but also observed that it has its quiet moments. Potter understood how to create an ebb and flow of action.
  3. I loved the specificity over what gets lost (the brand new blue jacket with the brass buttons, the shoes) and was reminded of something I once read about the highlight of Robinson Crusoe being the list of items salvaged from the wreck. What gets lost, and what is preserved? The delight is in the details.
  4. I also loved the very well realized side characters that make a brief appearance, but then play no further role in the story. You think at first the little mother mouse might do more than just shake her head in regret and move on; you anticipate a final thrilling escape scene involving the cat. But no, they're just there to add their small dabs to the painted landscape of the story.
  5. What I found most inspiring was how the ending was handled. Peter isn't scolded, but clearly suffers in comparison to his siblings. His mother pronounces no morals for the story, but simply does what's necessary to comfort her child and get him to bed. There'll be more adventures tomorrow, we're sure, but she'll be there again to receive the prodigal son, tally his losses and soothe his hurts, and send him off to sleep again.
The points that ended up inspiring me most in my writing today were #3 and #5. (I'm sure the others will find their way into my writing on other days.) I wrote a story about a mouse (not wanting to stray too far from my leporine source!) who, unlike his more homebound siblings, goes out every day to have adventures. The story covers four such days, all of which begin like this:
Sebastian Quartermaine Longfellow woke to the bright sun shining through the windows.
“You boys mind yourselves,” said his mother, “while I go find us food for the day.”
Sebastian’s brothers did as she said, but Sebastian went out in search of adventure.
He then has a series of four escalating adventures, each of which sees him returning home wet and/or sick and/or hurt and/or having lost some possession of his. And every evening, his mother does the same things: tends to all his hurts, feeds him hot soup, and puts him to bed, as in this ending to the third section:
His mother wondered what happened to Sebastian’s sheep wool gloves -- it was the third pair he’d lost that month [my homage to Peter Rabbit] -- but she dried him off and fed him hot soup and put him to bed for the night.

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